Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull

In this third installment of the Fablehaven series, Seth and Kendra find themselves in more danger than ever as the mysterious shadow plague threatens the Fablehaven preserve. As the Sorensons try to decide if they can trust the Sphinx and wonder whether Vanessa should be released from the quiet box to give them important information the plague spreads.

Kendra travels to Arizona in search of an ancient artifact, returning to find her family in danger from the darkness that threatens all the creatures of the preserve. Uniting together with help from an unexpected source, they pool all their resources to try to defeat the shadow plague.

I've been looking forward to this book for months and was not disappointed. The writing was as good as ever and the story riveting. The 480 pages passed quickly and once again I was disappointed to reach the end. Mull allows his characters to grow and learn while still retaining some the personality traits that sometimes get them in trouble. He uses description well to help the reader picture all the mysterious creatures that Kendra and Seth run into. The plot has so many twists and turns I'm constantly surprised at where the story goes next. I do wonder what can happen next and how many times Fablehaven can be in danger before the readers want something new, but for now it works and works well.

The second installment in the series - Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star - won a well-deserved Whitney Award for the Best YA/Children's category. I recommend the whole series as a fun read for kids and adults alike.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys by Janet Kay Jensen & Contest


Gather 'round, girls, and listen to my noise,
Don't you marry the Mormon boys;
If you do your fortune it will be,
Johnnycake and babies is all you'll see.
-- Old Western Folksong

"When Andy McBride met Louisa Martin, he knew he had found the girl for him. There was only one problem: polygamy -- a lifestyle that Louisa could not escape and Andy would not embrace.

"As medical students at the University of Utah, Andy and Louisa fall in love -- but can a mainstream Mormon and a Fundamental polygamist overcome the cultural barriers between them? Both realize that their choices will not only affect their own lives, but will also have an impact on their family, friends, and even their communities. Fearing that the sacrifices required of them would be too great, they go their separate ways.

"Yet for Andy in Kentucky and Louisa in Utah, life does not go as they'd planned. While Andy is serving as a country doctor and trying to bury his pain, Louisa is coming to terms with the fact that all is not as perfect in her tight-knit community as she'd believed. As doctors, each will have to choose between keeping the peace in their communities or doing what they know is right. And someday, both will have to face their past and decide if they can make the sacrifice to be together.

"Set in the red hills of southern Utah, the cosmopolitan center of Salt Lake City, the Smoky Mountains of Kentucky, and the lake-studded country of Finland, Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys is the heartfelt and engaging story about the power of love and acceptance in an ever-changing and often surprising world."

When I decided to read this book, I was intrigued by the concept of two people from two cultures with similar backgrounds coming together in a love story. Because polygamy has been in the news lately I wanted to see how the author handled the story. Halfway into the first chapter I was hooked. I expected a nice love story, I didn't expect to fall in love with the characters and the settings.

Jensen has created characters that are strong and likable. They overcome tremendous odds, from health problems, lack of family support, and the biggest one, an enormous difference in religious beliefs, and they do it in a believable manner. I also loved the smoky mountain setting and the quirky characters Andy meets there as he sets up his practice. Jensen also gave a good balance to the treatment of the two religions. Each had characters who were intolerant and close-minded, just as each side had characters who gave unconditional support of their decisions.

In the final analysis, I thought the subject of modern day polygamy was treated with grace. The writing was strong and the story was a compelling read. I can't wait for more from this author. Janet agreed to answer a few questions for me.

How much research were you able to do into the polygamist side of the story?

Janet: I have read quite a bit on the subject, including books by women who have left polygamy, newspaper series in the Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, and a most interesting book by Jessie Embrey, who interviewed people who had grown up in polygamy. We have driven through Colorado City, a polygamous community on the Utah-Arizona border, and that left lasting impressions. I also interviewed a former polygamist.

I was glad I researched the life of Martha Hughes Cannon, the first female physician in Utah, because when my neighbor began reading the book, she called and said she was thrilled because her husband, also a physician, is a descendant of Martha Hughes Cannon, and they were present when her statue was unveiled at the Utah State Capitol building a few years ago. My neighbor is descended from the Kingsburys, so when the medical school graduation took place in Kingsbury Hall at the University of Utah Campus, she was pleased that her side of the family was mentioned. I had no idea of this connection, but was glad that my information was accurate. She bought eleven copies of the book to give to family members.

I also researched the natural herbal remedies Miss Carolina uses with her patients.

The natural remedies were great. I loved the parts that took place in the Smokey Mountains. Do you base any of the characters on real people?

Janet: Miss Carolina is based loosely on my husband’s aunt. She wasn’t a healer and she was raised in the west, but her personality was very strong and commanded instant respect. She also had a wonderful sense of humor. Initially, she was a minor character, but I liked her so much I had to give her more to do. Eliza R. Snow is based on my border collie mix, Lita. The other characters are composites of qualities in people I know, and pure invention.

Andy and Louisa were such compelling characters. Do you see them appearing in future books?

Janet: I am working on the sequel. It begins with the journey of Zina Martin, Louisa’s sister who disappears from home one night rather than marry into polygamy. Andy and Louisa are part of that story, too.

What are you working on next?

Janet: The sequel to Don’t You Marry the Mormon Boys, tentatively titled Gabriel’s Daughters, and Grace Shall Lead Us Home, a novel that deals with adult illiteracy, the overwhelming effect it has on people’s lives, and the great lengths they will go to in order to hide it.

What is your favorite writing tip?

Janet: This has been drummed into my head by Ken Rand, a writer and editor: Avoid the passive tense, watch for too many adverbs and adjectives, and be on the alert for words or phrases you tend to overuse.

You can purchase "Don't You Marry the Mormon Boys" here.

Janet is providing a book to give away with this review, so post your comments on this post. On Saturday I will take all the comments and randomly select a winner to receive a free copy of this book. Good luck.

Monday, July 21, 2008

All's Fair by Julie Coulter Bellon


"Political campaign expert Kristen Shepherd excels at staying cool under pressure, but this time she’s in over her head. After leaving her high-profile fiancĂ© at the altar, she uncovers the shocking truth about the man she nearly married — truth that could ruin her life. With the press on her tail, the only person she can trust is Ryan Jameson, her political opponent and former boyfriend.

Army doctor and LDS convert Brandon Shepherd shares his sister Kristen’s talent for keeping a level head, and his newfound faith gives him steady strength during times of turmoil. But when he and fellow doctor Rachel Fields are seized as Iraqi prisoners of war, he faces a crisis of personal integrity that may cost him his life."

I enjoyed Julie's other books and this was no exception. The characters were well developed and it was interesting to have a glimpse into the soldier's life in Iraq. I could tell she did a tremendous amount of research, spending a lot of time interviewing Michael Blair who served in Irag. I enjoyed reading the descriptions of the military base. In the end, I wish the plot had been more developed. I enjoy the writing style and would easily have read another hundred pages. This is a good book especially if you are looking for one that is a fast read. I'll be interested in reading the next book by Julie Bellon.

I asked Julie a few questions about her book and her writing.

You often use foreign locations in your books and they seem authentic when I read them. What is it like trying to make foreign places seem real in your writing when you have never been there?

Julie: I have been to many of the foreign places I've used as settings in my books. I loved reliving my vacation memories for my story! For the places that I haven't been to, I do extensive research to make sure I have an accurate picture so people will feel like they are there. I love to travel, though, and hope to see many more countries and places before my life is over.

Tell us about "Skittles for Soldiers"? Have you had a good response so far?

Julie: Corporal Matthew Blair and the Nemesis squad are heroes to me, doing the best they can to protect others. These soldiers endure sandstorms that look like something out of the Mummy movies and rainstorms that sink trucks turret-deep in mud. They share meager meals with and have been hugged by Iraqi soldiers with tears in their eyes, and been cheered by villagers and schoolchildren who truly understand that the men and women of our country are there to give them freedom and keep them safe from fanatics. It is sobering to hear about, and made me appreciate their experiences in a way I never had before.

"Because of this, my book took on a special meaning and I really wanted to do justice to the men and women serving there. I took real experiences and incorporated them into my story, like the joy at receiving a care package from home that had something as ordinary as Skittles or a cup of noodles in it as well as the fear these men and women face in wondering if they will ever see their loved ones again. But then I took it a step further. I partnered with the charity Operation: Care and Comfort, (www.operationcareandcomfort.org) an organization, affiliated with the Red Cross, that sends care packages to military men and women serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict regions. I really wanted to give back something---even if (it was a little something, to thank these people for the sacrifices they’ve made and this seemed to be the perfect way to do it.
I have had a great response to my Skittles for Soldiers campaign. I wish you could see my family room right now because it is practically overflowing with the donated items people have given for our troops that will be sent to them in care packages. I got involved with Operation: Care and Comfort during the research for my new book, All's Fair. Talking with the soldiers who were serving in Iraq really gave me perspective on how much something from home can mean to all the men and women who are serving overseas. I'm thrilled to be able to give something back to them and thank them for their service and sacrifice. For anyone who is interested you can find more information on how you can help at their website: www.operationcareandcomfort.org

What are you working on next?

Julie: I turned in my next novel about a French undercover agent who finds out about a plot that will potentially kill thousands of people, but before she can tell anyone, she is branded a traitor and forced to go on the run. She does meet up with a character from my current book All's Fair, and I had a great time exploring his story further. I'm just really excited about this book, and of course, having been to France, I loved having that beautiful country as my backdrop.

Now that you've published several books, give us one piece of advice you wish you had known as a beginning writer.

Julie: Well, before I became a published author, I was an editor at a publishing company and whenever I saw a manuscript it was generally obvious which writers had taken the time to put forth their best effort and had gone through and edited their manuscript and which ones had not. My advice to beginning writers is to find a writers group or at least a few people that can read your work and give you honest opinions on where you can improve your story, where your strengths are, and what they liked and didn't like. It is invaluable to have that kind of feedback before you submit because your revisions will make your story that much stronger which will hopefully get your work that much closer to publication. It's also nice to have the manuscript be as well-edited as you can get it, because when you submit it, those you are submitting to can really see that you believe in this project, that this is your best effort, and it's something they will want to look twice at.

I know you were raised in Canada, so what is your favorite Canadian treat?

Julie: Which treat is my favorite? That's a really hard question! I love Caramilk, Big Turk, Mr. Big, All-Dressed chips, and Shreddies cereal. But those are just a few. It's too hard to pick just one or two! I really miss Canadian food and am so grateful my mother is able to get care packages down to me every so often.

Thanks Julie. It was nice talking with you. You can order All's Fair here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dragon Flight by Jessica Day George

"In far off Citatie, Prince Luka has made an alarming discovery: the southern country’s entire army is mounted on dragons, and they plan to attack Feravel. It’s up to Creel to gather her dragon friends and lead them south, first as spies, then as soldiers, in a battle against an unexpected enemy. But the Citatian dragons outnumber those from Feravel, and some of Creel’s friends are still recovering from the first dragon war. Will they be able to win this fight, and will they still have a home to return to even if they do?"

This is the sequel to the Whitney Award winning novel Dragon Slippers. I've been looking forward to reading this for some time and I wasn't disappointed. The story continues to follow Creel as she finds further adventures with the dragons. Even though Creel loves to create beautiful clothing, she will never be quite satisfied sitting at home in her dress shop. She also misses Prince Luka and wonders if their relationship will ever go further as she is just a commoner and he is a prince.

Creel goes with her dragon friends to help Prince Luka discover why the Citatians and their dragons are planning to attack Feravel. Creels discovery shocks her and the dragons and they must pool all their resources to save themselves, the country and the dragons.

I enjoyed this book. The story was engaging and I loved the quirky characters of all the dragons. Every time I thought I had the story figured out and the characters had the problems solved, a new twist would be thrown in and I would have to begin wondering again how the author would finish the story. I'm going to give these books to my daughter to read as she loves anything with dragons and I know she'll enjoy Dragon Flight and Dragon Slippers.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Roses & Daisies by Anna Maria Junus

Laurel Tanner has everything - a loving husband and beautiful daughter. But when her daughter dies in a tragic accident Laurel doesn't know how to cope with the situation. Her husband Doug doesn't know how to handle his wife's pain and even though he tries, he can't show the emotion to help her believe he as touched by the tragedy as she is. The rest of the family does what they can for her, but she finally breaks and takes off on her own, driving across Canada.

While Laurel tries to escape her pain, the rest of the family struggles to figure out where she has gone. Through the mental connection she has with her twin brother, Linden, the family finally gets an idea of where she is. Doug and Linden fly across Canada to bring her home. Through the eyes and emotions of seven different people, the story unfolds.

I found Roses & Daisies to be engaging from the beginning. The emotions of a family dealing with a tragic loss are well portrayed. The characters were well portrayed and I really cared what happened to them. I didn't how each chapter jumped from character to character, each portrayed in the first person. There were only a few times where I had to return to the beginning of the chapter to find out whose viewpoint I was reading. Even though I don't usually enjoy books that jump this way, this one was well done, and it bothered me less than I thought it would. This is a book I recommend. It is an enjoyable read and I can't wait to read more from this author.